Category Archives: Writing

Freedom of Discussion

julian-paul-378497.jpg

The truth is that I would love to be in a position to write freely about any topic in my heart and mind.

I know what you’re thinking: “You can can do that already.”

It’s not true, though.

Like so many others, I have a list of masters, each with a thumb pressed against my ability to speak freely.

More than luxury cars, a mansion, or the ability to travel the world, I’d like to be able to sit down and follow ideas to any destination.

The bizarre thing is that there are times when I am convinced that if I would just abandon all pretense and start writing this way without any guarantees that I probably would achieve independence.

X

A Little Commentary About Social Media

benjamin-davies-301161 with x.png

 

I’ve not posted in a few days because so many people who’ve never met me read my last post on my public figure page. ( My public-figure FB page….) It’s a separate FB page of mine, still using my real name. My personal FB page is at: My personal FB page…  I took the time to stop and consider every word shared with me, whether shared on social media or my own website. Instead of posting or writing, I took the time to ingest anything sent to me.

Every once in a while I write something, albeit inexpertly, which resonates with a wide swath of people. The post about “The Glass Castle” was one of those things which echoed and ricocheted. It drew very little attention on my personal FB page but it went far on the public-figure version of my FB. It is a strange thing to see total strangers react to my words and engage in a way that people who know me don’t. It led a few people to find other things I’ve written; many of them reacted with surprise at the sheer quantity of it. If they wrote, they told me that they were caught off guard by the mix of personal stories and weird humor.

None of them have gone beyond casually mentioning that my grammar is sometimes in need of a ruler across the knuckles. The internet’s usual trollish response was nowhere to be found. One person reminded me of something I wrote several years ago: “Write without the discoloration of perfectionism. Someone else can proofread and edit. You don’t need to know how to plumb your house in order to turn on the kitchen faucet and prepare a gourmet meal, do you?”

To anyone who has written, I’ve replied by including a request that they share a story of their lives, whether it is funny, serious, or unpolished. I explain to them that we have one of the best communication tools ever devised being wasted on resharing and repetition of what others produce. It’s my hope that most of them will think about what I’ve asked and use social media to tell the rest of us a story.

Several have sent me anecdotes and shared stories of their lives with me. To me, this is the essence of social media – and one which we tend to neglect. So many say they are displeased with social media, but rarely does anyone put in the effort to make it interesting and personal.

To anyone who shared, I consider it to be a gift, one of the most personal ones possible. If I can write anything which propels another person to take moments of their lives and share a little of theirs, I’ve achieved a measure of success. These types of exchanges erase almost all the animus of political and personal animosity people experience.

What total strangers continue to teach me is that it is difficult to know one’s own story in the way that others might recognize. I’m enthralled with the strangeness of social media reaching so far, through the almost impenetrable fog of the unfamiliar.

I’m still contemplating the fact that very few of my friends interacted with the post, while hundreds of strangers read what I wrote, and some then took the time to share their own stories. I got a glimpse of the power of words, even at the hands of a hack like myself.

Living in a Glass Castle

This isn’t simply a review of the movie “The Glass Castle,” nor is it simply a biographical reflection. It is, however, an unsettling hybrid of a portion of myself and the movie. Like all things observed, our own peculiar perspective discolors the content of what we occupy ourselves with: our own face and temperament are reflected in the things we deceive ourselves into believing to be mere entertainment. While I was entertained by the movie, I was also stabbed in a way that few movies can achieve.

I knew the movie preview was slightly misleading and that it had artfully avoided showing the underbelly of what pervaded Jeannette Wall’s life. To be honest, I had forgotten the memoir, even though it was a book that I very much wanted to read a few years ago. After seeing the movie, I can appreciate just how much of the grime, horror, and shock was dropped from it. People love great stories but often recoil when the truth is laid bare. When a good writer is determined to be both honest and unflinching, some stories become too overwhelming. It’s quite the art to begin telling a story that people want to hear, but cringe as they lean in to hear the words they know will hurt them in a way that’s difficult to see.

Perversely, I was relieved to know that my instinct about the movie being sanitized was accurate. Much of the nuance was powerful and authentic; as a student of family violence, a couple of the scenes seemed disjointed to me. Perhaps it is madness to expect continuity in craziness but once you’ve filtered out the normalcy, even lunacy has its rules.

In the movie, Woody Harrelson as the dad is arguing with his daughter, insisting that she’s a revisionist to history. This pathos is one I’ve long held close to my own heart in my adult life. While I sometimes fail to steer away from revisionism, I at least know that I’m not impervious to the tendency. So many others, though, they cling to their idealized fantasies about people in our lives. They frequently take out their acquired masks and repaint them, all to tell themselves that the monsters in their past weren’t really monsters, just tormented and troubled people. People who do their best to tell their stories and to unmask their monsters are a threat to their self-identity. I want to see the monsters, both in my own life and in the lives of others. It does no one an injustice if you are sharing a piece of yourself. Each one of us owns our stories, even those pieces which darkly silhouette our lives.

I’ve written before that sometimes I observe the world and am amazed that most people seem to be unpoisoned by their own secret boxes, the ones some of us have managed to swallow, surpass, and mostly overcome. In my case, I judge most other people to be novices regarding human violence. Knowing the box is there at all robs me of a portion of my ability to live freely. It’s ridiculous to assert otherwise. If you don’t have such a box, feel glad, rather than doubtful that others had the necessity of constructing one to avoid fragmenting into incoherence.

 

After the movie and during the credits, the dad Rex was shown in grainy black and white, peering out of an abandoned building’s window, ranting about capitalism and property. It was clear that he was much angrier, unmoored, and detached than the movie would have us assume. My wife wouldn’t know it as she sat mesmerized beside me, but it was a visceral punch for me. The flash of recognition I experienced in seeing Rex as he really was versus Woody Harrelson’s impersonation of him almost untethered me. Seeing his as a ‘real’ person somehow unmasked the subtleness and veneer of the movie. Gone was the pretense of nobility or great acts. I could only see the residue of a base life, like the yellowish tint which permeates a smoker’s life. No matter what good Rex Hall might have done in his life, he was a part of what allowed children to be damaged. That any of them took this stew of disaster and emerged with great lives is a testament to our creativity and resolve.

So many of us had family members who would only marginally fit our definitions of what it means to be human. We individually adjust, trying to come to terms with the insanity of anger, knowing in our own hearts that some people are permanently damaged. We fight against the ignorance of others, the ones who insist that forgiveness and acceptance are on our plate and must be consumed. We know that anyone who hasn’t been in a room with a family member and suffered the inconvenience of knowing that our loved one truly might kill us in that moment cannot ever be reached on an emotional level. Until you’ve felt the metaphorical knife, the blade is just a vague unknowable threat.

One of my demons in life has been my aversion to a return to the crucible of anger and those who live there. I’ve been happiest when I’ve been able to reject such associations and cut the strings, and in some cases to stretch them. It’s always a fight, though, because those still melting in the crucible fight to keep you tethered to it as well. I no longer judge as harshly as I once did. Each of us decides for ourselves how our lives should proceed. Seeing the strings is all too often the first step to either severing them or ignoring them. I don’t take kindly to the angry insistence that I pay homage to the monstrous portions of my own past. I’m well aware that I have more than a few people who would gladly bash my head against a stone if it would mean they could resume believing the fantasy that my stories expose as untruths.

I know that intelligence forces us to do strange things with horror and mistreatment. Most of us buttress our sanity by converting these things into humor. It’s a skill I’ve honed for a few decades. As the credits rolled, I watched as Jeannette’s brother joked about his father’s memory, even as he sat at a table with his siblings who shared his past. I can’t speak for him. I do note, however, the brush of nostalgia in his words. Time is what grants us peace and the ability to laugh. Because life goes on, the fists and shattered bottles on the kitchen floor fade. We count our scars, both seen and unseen, and put one foot in front of another.

And sometimes, we watch a flawed movie that somehow reaches a talon inside our clenched hearts and ruptures a piece of what we’ve imprisoned away from the light. Because I know that the author of “The Glass Castle” had a life which was much worse than the movie revealed, my memory is slightly more forgiving. It makes me glad that the grandmother’s legacy has been forever stained and that some things were allowed to slither out from under the rocks to be viewed.

That a memoir such as “The Glass Castle” was written warms my heart. Jeannette Walls overcame and used her gift to sling arrows out into the world. Arrows are both weapon and tools, and she has done a great service to her own survival. The discomfort people might feel is an acknowledgment of how much suffering happens in the world. Next door, across town, wherever people live and breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Language Is Communication, Not Math…

moritz-schmidt-17467

For those who obsess over nuances such as semicolon appropriateness, you are of course correct in your insistence but wrong in your logic.

Language is communication, not math; authoritative attempts toward grammatical obedience leads to a cabal of ignored perfectionists, their collective pomp drawing the wrong kind of attention. Those using the language own it; if you find yourself outnumbered by those who refuse allegiance to the arcane rules of grammatical engagement, your only recourse is to use language as you see fit.

It is a gross assumption to claim that we commonly agree on the rules of language.

English is a voracious language and fluid in its spectacle. Most of the errors we perceive in our judgment of its usage tend to be the fault of the preposterous litany of illogical and capricious rules which allegedly govern it. Humans will never willingly pay homage to rules which betray the twin paths of practicality and reason.

When used with creative vigor, it is true that language is a beautiful governess attending to us. When used as a dead repository of grammatical obligations, it is a scorned woman yanking at her own hair.

Time teaches us that entropy destroys even the illusion of consistency in the form and content of our words. Grammar is the imagined road map to a place which no one gleefully visits, while spelling is the witchcraft of barking dogs in a canyon a mile distant.

Each language holds its own secrets and none owe allegiance to others or even its own previous incarnation. It all adds up to a frenzied verbal fist fight with usage always being the declared victor. We can weep at its frenzied evolution but we cannot contain it, even as our objections mount skyward.

If you doubt any of this to be true, learn another language as intensely as your first. Language embodies all the beauty and dismay of man himself.

Insert Badly-Titled Title Here…

2560x1600-air-force-dark-blue-solid-color-background-2

It’s easy to see who values the internal mechanisms of one’s life. On social media, I write many introspective or narrative pieces. They glide past the superficial and lay bare parts of me. The people who know me best and appreciate me for who I am invariably read or participate in those discussions. Yes, I know that some of my posts are lengthy – but so are conversations and shared experiences. I don’t expect people to clamor to show up at my house each Friday evening; likewise, I don’t anticipate each friend deliberately using his or her limited time to come find my posts and inhale them, either.

If I were to construct a Venn diagram of introspective narratives versus superficial posts, there is almost no overlap for several of my social media friends. It’s not a question of time involvement, either, as demonstrated by participation on other equally engaging timelines or interests. I’m obviously not including those without social media or those who never participate in time-intensive engagement.

This is a sign that I’m being monitored by some friends instead of appreciated.

This isn’t a call for “look at me;” rather, it is a reminder that social media provides a multitude of windows into our friend’s lives. Like our lives, the totality of interaction and value leaves a wake behind it. An observant person can’t help but to draw inferences from those signs. It’s true that some inferences are wrong, mainly because we jump to conclusions without direct connections based on the evidence. But we have our personal instincts which usually serve to point us in the right direction.

A sociologist who loves these trends and studies them tells me that this a trend which affects the frequency of people’s posts, as well as the depth of what they share of their personal life. It’s like the son who is gay who calls his mom and she chooses to discuss the banal stories about work instead of the son’s intense desire to adopt a child in opposition to social forces. Or if someone personally writes about his or her dislike of social policy and only those motivated by the desire to tell him how wrong he is opt to comment. If people are arguing with you about social policy, it tends to indicate they don’t agree with a lot you are doing or saying about your personal life, either, as obvious a statement as that might be.  It’s a tough sell to get people to see this nuance about sharing and interacting.

If friends comment on your superficial posts but mostly ignore what you have to say when you’re sharing parts of yourself, they aren’t really interested or invested in you as a person. It is more likely that are self-validating, which is a very human reaction. It’s just each of us must decide to what degree we are comfortable with this. Even with this point, I have to make an exception for those who have larger followings of those interested in them solely for a specific topic.

It would never occur to me to comment or interact on superficial or political posts if I consistently ignore the personal ones. I’m doing a poor job explaining exactly why this seems indecorous to me, though.

My experience tells me that if you aren’t unilaterally participating with the range of my posts, you aren’t really that interested in me or my life.

There are exceptions to the above, of course, and always, I haven’t expertly fleshed out my argument.

The Maple

14264220_10154465921813334_628480073893500791_n

 

Below is a simple story. My friend Anita painted another treat for me. As always, I accept the responsibility of trying to describe what I saw when I first looked at the painting. This is what seemed to be the story…


Their accidental love was just blossoming when they bought their first house; one so small that they once joked that their elbows rubbing together so often might reduce it to cinders. On their first anniversary, they planted a maple sapling in the back yard. They would sit on their small porch, quietly swinging, looking west, and observing the majesty of nature and their contribution to it. As the sapling grew, they used it to measure their shared time. In year three, lightning struck it and made it a pile of smoldering splinters. They replanted, laughing, hands thick with dirt. In year seventeen, a surprising and brief tornado ripped the replacement and took it to parts unknown. As he walked among the saplings in his neighbor’s nearby field to choose another, he felt the sharp pains again. This time, they stubbornly persisted. The doctor confirmed what he feared and as they planted the third maple, he gave her the devastating news and comforted her in the quiet way that only he knew. As his disease progressed, he lost his job and then she lost hers to care for the only man she had ever loved. They frowned and then giggled as the bank came to let them know that their small house of big love was theirs no longer. The day he died, she returned and hesitantly walked around and behind the now lifeless empty house, nervously holding her breath as the October sun beckoned her, even as the chilly breeze tugged at her. Even though their special tree was again no more than a small vertical challenge to the sky, she could picture what might have been. She could feel the warmth of the autumn sun and the lingering presence of him. She smiled, knowing that everything was just as it should be.

Pat Conroy Crossed the Bridge

marsh-1441547333zVr

 

Pat Conroy, one of the best American authors to have ever penned a word, died yesterday. So often did I read his books when I was younger that I imagined grooves were created in my mind, ones fill with lyrical prose, and places brought to life, whispering their presence long after the book was closed. Whether it was in “Prince of Tides,” or “Beach Music,” Conroy knew how to create that echo of resemblance to things both real and imagined, and a desire to live in those worlds. The world has lost something mystical with his passing.

A Truly Short Story

IMAG0387

As he lifted the lid of the waste management can, he absentmindedly tossed in a bag of trash. It seemed to fall for several seconds, ending with a cacophonous thud in the bottom of the plastic receptacle.

He looked down the street, noticing which houses were alit with the signs of life, which houses had cars parked in their patient driveways, and which seemed absent any movement. The deepening twilight resonated with an eerie sheen across vaguely reflective surfaces.

He noted the absence of filtered whimpers and screams. The quiet was disconcerting and unnatural. It occurred to him that so many things seemed to be more fully defined by noticing what seemed to be missing.

So many nights he had passively noted the shouts, the cries, and the fractured silences. Sealing his doors and windows only diminished their volume, yet somehow amplified their significance. Quiet now seemed like a musical cadence missing a beat of syncopation. It made him uneasy, like when he entered a dark unfamiliar room, his hand vainly seeking the contour of a wall switch. He was unsure as to the velocity with which slumber might greet him in these circumstances.

After a few moments, he heard a door open. As he turned to the right, he saw a narrow beam of light cast its gaze upon the suburban sidewalk leading to the neighbor’s front door. A second later, a subdued housewife ambled out, shutting the door behind her. An ember signifying a lit cigarette danced lazily in the air as she moved. She walked across the expanse of her driveway, lifting the lid of her trash receptacle. As she lifted the black bag to drop it inside, a pale arm fell across the outer rim, fingers pointed toward the ground in mock accusation.

She casually lifted the arm, dropping it without much consideration back into the trash, placing her new bag on top of whatever the lifeless arm might be attached to.

The man smiled toward her in the dark, knowing the housewife did the same, a shared secret of two hours ago.

After so many nights of questioning, endless tears and abrasions, they both had reached the same mortal conclusion, one punctuated by a single shot reverberating inside a cramped living room.

As the abuser fell to the floor, eyes wide in dead surprise, both participants locked eyes. They silently and mutually agreed that the abuser’s fate was predestined and unworthy of comment.

They attentively listened with heads tilted for a minute, and then without conversation lifted the dead husband and carried him outside, unceremoniously tossing him inside the trash container. Just as no one had come to help during the preceding weeks of fists and screams, no one had come to investigate the exclamatory ring of a solitary gunshot.

Now, two hours later, the ticks and clicks of a typical night were all that greeted them as they both went back inside their respective houses.

Sleep would come easily to them both.

All in the world was as it should be.

….

 

 

 

 

 

(For the picture, I used a character I created for something else. If you zoom in, you’ll see he’s just a silhouette with light orbs instead of eyes. In the background above him, another light, seemingly tracking his movement. Perhaps too subtle is the foggy translucent of the driveway flowing away from him.)

The Beginning of A Story…

06TrueDeltaLinesRDoyle

The beginning of a story…

 

On the outskirts of the decaying Arkansas farm town of Brinkley, a solitary man walked purposefully along the edge of a frozen January field. He had walked a hundred miles, powered by the slow and consuming burn of revenge. Each step punctuated his commitment to teaching the ghosts of his past the error of the word ‘no.’

There would be no deviation this time. The limiting exoskeleton of his youth would no longer detain him and the harsh, silencing rebuke of the culpable police and impeached family held no further weight upon his shoulders. He had jettisoned his entire life in order to quiet the insistent voices that greeted him each morning as he rolled out of bed.

He had packed one knife, a weather-worn pistol and two bullets, weapons sufficient to pay it forward to the world, one rid of the cancerous anger that had allowed his brother’s murder to transpire without consequences to those involved.

Absent from this small corner of the world for fourteen years, he had forgotten the beauty of the encroaching winter sunset, the smells of distant wood smoke and the slowing of time in the rural community. As his boots found foothold on the broken stumps of last year’s crops, he felt as if he were reversing course in time, feeling the intervening years lost to adulthood slip away, leaving a white-hot ember of angry remembrance.

‘No,’ he whispered to himself without realizing he had done so aloud.

As he cleared the southern perimeter of the expansive field, he crossed under sagging power lines between leaning utility poles. The birds sitting impassively on the wires squawked with hellish surprise as he looked up at the reddish skyline and screamed, ‘No!’ This time, he felt his anger flow out of him as his scream echoed along the tree line. His hand subconsciously touched the outline of the knife tucked into the waistline along the back of his jeans.

As the birds above him flew away, his pace increased, taking him toward the inevitability of someone’s death. Whether it would be his or those who had unwittingly pushed him out of his hometown fourteen years ago would be up to fate. 1991 seemed more real to him than any time since his youthful innocence had been stolen from him. Like each of us, he walked forward, uncertain and determined.